TechPresident points to and interesting article today from the Yale Journal of Law & Technology (draft version of article set to appear in 2008-2009 Fall Issue) that proposes a new form of open government that encourages the closure of government web sites. The idea is that US government web sites are so notoriously bad, they should just be torn down in favor of private sector alternatives. But this is more than just a privatization push, this is about turning the government into a data platform.
"Rather than struggling, as it currently does, to design sites that meet each end-user need, it should focus on creating a simple, reliable and publicly accessible infrastructure that "exposes" the underlying data," says the draft version of the article (emphasis theirs). In other words, the government should become a data platform, exposing their vast amounts of data to the public -- i.e., via API -- and let the private sector mash it up to make helpful services for people.
The authors say that an open government data platform would lead "toward an ecosystem of grassroots, unplanned solutions to online civic needs." Eventually, the authors think that data mashup tools will become so commonplace and easy to use that people will no longer need third parties help them consume the information they seek. Instead, they'll be able to tap into the open government data layer and create custom applications with it on their own time. Think: Dapper for government.
That's a compelling vision of the future of open government, and one that makes a lot of sense. The idea is something like CSS -- which separates the display code of a web site from the content. A government data platform would separate the content from the task of displaying it, which the commercial and non-profit spaces are likely better suited for than the government itself.
Better online access to government data is something that all three candidates still in the US presidential race support, though Barack Obama seems most receptive to a radical idea like this one, saying on his web site that he plans to make "government data available online in universally accessible formats to allow citizens to make use of that data to comment, derive value, and take action in their own communities."
Easy access to the massive amounts of government data would very probably lead to some compelling mashups and consumer services. We recently wrote about a new massive scale data mashup called PolicyMap that could likely benefit from something like this, for example. What do you think? Does a government data platform make sense? Should the government get out of the web site development business? Let us know in the comments.